Broch of Gurness

Orkney and Shetland seem to be littered with ‘brochs’ along their coastlines. These are the remains of little forts dating from the Iron Age, when petty chieftains built large, round towers to protect their families from their neighbours. Most offer little for inspection but bumps and mounds, but some, such as the one at Gurness at Orkney, one can still walk about its ruins. It probably dates to 500-400 BC, and was abandoned about 100AD, though it likely survived as a Pictish village. Gurness is today a remote spot on a remote island, and I daresay it was not much more metropolitan two and a half thousand years back. A more secluded and private place is hard to imagine.

It is possible that the broch was inhabited while the prophet Malachi was ministering in Judah. These northern tribesmen would have neither heard of him, nor the one God whose word he preached, unless they had a dim memory of Noah and his ark. If Malachi was equally unaware of these pale, northern cousins, the Holy Spirit who inspired him was not. While He offers rebuke to a backsliding Israel, He anticipates hope for the Gurness broch-dwellers:

For from the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same, my Name is great among the Gentiles, and in every place incense shall be offered unto my Name, and a pure offering: for my Name is great among the heathen, saith the Lord of hosts. (1:11)

Yet they would consider Israel blessed:

And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a pleasant land, saith the Lord of hosts. (3:12)

For from the tribes of Israel would

…the sun of righteousness arise, and health shall be under his wings, and ye shall go forth and grow up as fat calves. (4:2b, all Geneva Bible)

In those dark, northern winters, the rising sun was more treasured and appreciated than the lighter southern lands. The coming Christ would bring salvation, not just to the Jew, but to the gentile, be he south or north, east or west.

Interestingly, fragments of Roman amphora have been found at Gurness, suggesting that the owner of this broch traded with the Romans, or traded with persons who did. When Claudius formally visited Colchester in AD43, it was claimed that

…Claudius was the second of the Romans to invade Britain, and a great part of the island surrendered to him. And he added the isles of Orkney, the isles of the Picts, to the Roman empire and from there he returned to Rome.

Futhermore, the Roman general Agricola boasted of having ‘subdued’ the islands in 84, by which he likely sailed past them or briefly landed and demanded some tribute before he cleared off. What is interesting is that in the very century in which the Sun of Righteousness appeared, of whom Malachi spoke, the empire which controlled Judea was busily meddling in Scotland and selling wines to its broch lords. It would be several centuries before Christ’s name was truly great among the Orkneymen, but that time would come.